Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 9:9-13


As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.
10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’[b] For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”[c]

This is NOT one of the more enigmatic statements of Jesus (not that there were really that many in the first place).  Matthew writes of his own call very succinctly.  “Jesus came, he saw, I went.” Like the fishermen, there is immediate turning from former vocation; we don’t know if he ever went back to it for a while, or what his employers the Romans said.  Maybe he was disgusted with the life, tired of being hated by his countrymen, exhausted with the pressure from the Romans to get more and more money.  Even Paul put up an argument, but not Matthew, not in this record.  We don’t know if this is the first time they have met; I find that unlikely. 
The next verses are an outgrowth of that encounter, most likely.  The tax collectors (who might be Jew or Gentile, for all we know) are eating with him, the supreme act of fellowship.  Not just tax collectors, but “sinners.”  That is interesting.  We know we are all sinners; every theologian from Paul to Barth convinced us of that, and we really didn’t need any convincing any way.  But apparently to this Pharisees, they were not sinners and sinners were a separate class of people rather than the state of all men.  Perhaps that is a core of legalism; some people get beyond the class of “sinner.” 
Instead of coming to Jesus directly, they try to talk behind his back, but to no avail.  Jesus is on to them.  I imagine they were pretending to be surreptitious but really wanted to be heard, but didn’t want to defile themselves with talking to Jesus, the friend of sinners.  “I am come to deal with people who know they have a problem, just like a doctor knows he is going to deal with sick people.  Well people don’t come to the emergency room, or people that think they are well.  Only sinners can repent; if you think you are righteous, you won’t repent and aren’t interested in me. “  But even more, “You get your righteousness from giving your sacrifices in the temple.  Wouldn’t it be better if you were merciful, especially to these people, rather than sacrificing?  Wouldn’t the right choices in the first place be better?”
This is my understanding of what Jesus says here.  I may be a bit off on it.  He is quoting the Old Testament, Hosea 6:6 to be exact, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”  As mentioned before, mercy is not just the act of forgiveness, although that is part of it. To be merciful is a lifestyle, a proactive stance as well as a reactive one. 
Our pastor is preaching on the reality of the gospel in one’s life; it is not a reality of having professed a conversion as a child and then ignoring it for decades.  He is preaching from James, a book that you have to be prophetic with if you are teaching it. 

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